This collection by Colgate (The Shooting Party; The Orlando Trilogy, etc.) is composed of three elegantly written, evocative, ironic at times, small-scale and modest stories. The first, ""The Girl Who Lived Among Artists,"" describes with charm and dry humor the snobbish times (1930s) in the small provincial town of Bath, where Vere's mother parades her pretentions of being related to a lord and hopelessly insists on applying a veneer of gentility to her children's rusticity. In the house to which Vere moves after he becomes a bicycle repairman (to share the basement flat with his friend Carley--a driver for a small firm of carriers), the Viennese Mrs. Behr from the top floor complains about the newcomer, Nancy, for ""not being a respectable woman."" Carley, who ""saved her life,"" has brought Nancy to the flat to live with him: a seductive, vivacious, moody (some days she doesn't get up), beautiful bohemian wrapped in shawls. Even the evenings upstairs become transformed as Nancy's mockery floats closer to the surface. She seduces them all: she and Vere make love when Carley is not around, and one afternoon, when Carley and Vere return earlier than usual, they find her with Elaine (the landlady's daughter) and the Viennese Professor Behr, all naked in bed. Carley runs away, poisons himself and dies. After the funeral, Vere takes the dog and leaves for London; twenty years later he sees Nancy on the street in London wrapped in an expensive coat and is happy that she has survived and that he himself has somehow managed too. The second story, ""Distant Cousins,"" reads a bit like a science-fiction story with the ancient moral that human beings are very destructive even when they don't mean to be. An American professor joins, in the 1950s, a scientific expedition to Siberia, where he discovers a tribe of another species, whose minds are so oversensitive--and advanced--that in the end they are destroyed by all the photographs and flashes used by the scientists. The third story--and the best--is built around a confessional letter that brilliant, promising Raymond writes to Alison, his friend's wife. He confesses that his life has been misguided (he had studied medicine and mathematics, lived in communes during the 1960s) and that he loves her and has loved her for years and knows that she had also loved him but that they had both been afraid. The story ends happily with Alison's fantasy of taking her fur coat and finding him in whatever village in Russia and looking in his eyes without fear. Colgate writes with charm, but these are merely minor pieces.